Aging is not a very popular topic, largely due to the fact we live in an era of obsessive fascination with youth, beauty and physical strength where people will do anything to delay growing old. Aging has for a long time been neglected within feminist and women studies as well as in art and activism, and as a result, we tried to explore how this subject has invaded contemporary art, and what questions are posed. In a broader social context, aging has become a political and economic issue, indeed, an ageing population has become a global phenomenon as life expectancy gets longer, retirement ages are being increased and thereby this “embarrassing” topic has been given special attention. In addition, 2012 has been the European year of active ageing and intergenerational solidarity.

At a local level, we are faced with anti-crisis measures in the form of a new package of reforms in the pension system which literally anticipates “active ageing” and dramatic violations of social rights. Further to issues of intergenerational solidarity (i.e. how to understand the reduction of pensions, public health services and other social mechanisms) other questions emerge, such as the attitude of young people and the middle generation to their own ageing, as well as social and economic pressures which are rapidly aggravating the situation. Radical changes and worst-case scenarios for the future make us reflect on the role of elders in these contemporary, eternal-youth oriented societies. Today, the 'future' and 'progress' are considered the two most relevant values, whilst old age is seen as having no future and remains excluded from the competition; it is pushed to the social margins and in the worst case, is just something that gets in the way. After all, we are all aging and if we wonder what future lies ahead of us, the possible scenarios bring only uncertainty and despair. Indeed, there are no social rights in our future; pensions are merely utopian dreams and a dignified life in an old age a long forgotten myth. For the majority of the population, of course.

These trends of violating historically acquired social rights demonstrate that today it is no longer appropriate to grow up and grow old with dignity, as if (apparent) youth alone would ensure a better quality of life. Statistically, there has always been gender asymmetry in the economic situation of older men and women. Due to the fact that with age, women – generally having lower pensions and subject to larger pressures as to their appearance and functionality – are exposed to specific social expectations and requirements, we focused our interest on women's voices, experiences, reflections and troubles from the marginalised field of the invisible; from art projects and education programmes to discussions and activist actions. Some of them will be presented at this year’s ‘adult’ 18th International Festival of Contemporary Arts – City of Women.

The 2012 festival remains loyal to the trans-disciplinary model, though somewhat more modest than in previous years, but no less interesting. The topics are tackled by women artists of all generations, though with emphasis on artists of the middle and older generations, from all over the world and will range from intimate reflections on their attitude to their own bodies, its alleged defects and faults, to a broader social and critical dealing with the euphoric recourse to plastic surgery and the aggressive dictates of the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. They will also address the economic reasons for the cosmetic industry to be making a fortune from the myth of eternal youth.

If we have a closer look at this year's festival programme, we might say that the More Store project by the Argentinian-Spanish artist Ana Alvarez-Errecalde targets the economic motives of the beauty industry. The exhibition at the Vžigalica Gallery has been conceived as an installation of a fake store where 40 women from around the world, of different ages and of different physical constitutions, are exhibited in the form of bodysuits. The installation is a critique of the advertising industry which serves us a daily flood of product advertisements and forces on us an infinite number of images of the one and the same model – a young “perfect woman”. In her work, the artist firmly opposes the objectification of woman and the mechanisms of exploiting a woman’s body based on the rules of the capitalist market.

The international group exhibition The Mirror of Time is composed of the works of ten artists or artist collectives from Slovenia and abroad. Through various artistic formats (installations, animations, performances, etc.), the exhibition will mirror both intimate as well as social and historical reflections on issues addressing transcience and ageing; the transition to menopause; the disappearance of ancient women's traditions; intergenerational transfer of knowledge; the effects of discriminatory thinking and the roots of misogynic social values, etc. 

The programme of performing arts and performance is characterised by a most varied ‘cast’. In its own unique way, every work tackles the topic of ageing. Barbara Kapelj Osredkar, together with Štefka Drolc and Iva Zupančič, co-created the performance Dear Duša in order to visit the forest of memories and remember the theatre souls that lived and worked with Duša Počkaj, to whom the performance is dedicated on the 30th anniversary of her death.

The Curious Collective talks about the love of an elderly couple and entices in a poetic multimedia story the volunteers from the Tabor Retirement Home. In her mannerist dance performance, the choreographer Maria Hassabi walks through an alley of women's images. Her performance will also be a platform for a seven-day workshop organised in collaboration with the Emanat Institute. The diametrically opposed aesthetics of the stand-up comedy Bastard Nights directed by Renata Ciaravino and Carmen Pellegrinelli, tackles in a satirical manner the perspective of a woman, artist, leftist in her late thirties in Berlusconi’s Italy. The unusual meta_FAMILY of Julia Bardsley, with a workshop and performance on the final day, is a research project addressing the grounds and models of deeply rooted archetypal roles in family.

The performance programme will present unique artists that are also pioneers of performance art, especially so in Esther Ferrer, a charismatic Spanish performer who has been active in this field for nearly fifty years, or Vlasta Delimar, a Croatian artist with a unique presence who prepared for the festival an initiation on the search for a new direction at junction in her life.

If some consider performance “the most radical of the arts” the actions and themes performed by Rocío Boliver over the last twenty years place her in the most radical wing in the history of Mexican body art. The performance Between Menopause and Old Age is a personal manifesto by a 56-year artist against age discrimination. In Afghan Hound, Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen addresses the issue of gender complexity in the patriarchal Arab society, whilst Nicola Canavan, an artist of the younger generation, focuses her interest in an exploration of the body that through slow actions changes in the space of ritual transformation. Local performing duo Leja Jurišić & Teja Reba prepared a re-enactment of the performance 'Sofa'; Plea on a Sofa was inspired by convicted Russian feminists and activists Pussy Riot, to whom the performance is dedicated.

There is a return of slam performance to our programme thanks to a young Belgrade writer and dramatist, Minja Bogavac. In a sharp and direct rap and hip-hop manner, she will serve us details of her life in a form of a 45-minute 'verbal flood'. Extraordinary Canadian musician Wendy McNeill will spoil us with her sharp-edged songs with accordion and guitar that seem like dispatches from a post rock cabaret. We will take you to more experimental waters via a collaborative project with Sonica Festival; a sound performance Teenage Lontano by Marina Rosenfeld who re-assembled an orchestral work into a vocal composition for a teenage choir. The Ljubljana choir is composed of Pre-school Education and Grammar School Ljubljana students.

There wouldn't be a film programme if it had not been for the loyal support of Cankarjev dom and their production efforts. Simon Popek responded to the festival's topic with a smart selection of film delights by local and foreign directors who put at the forefront their grandmothers (Naomi Kawase, Zemira Alajbegović & Neven Korda, Lidija Bobrova), the life of older married couples (Sarah Polley, Kersti Uibo) or the role of political systems in the history of their own family (Petra Seliškar).

The youngest cinephiles have also been taken care of with the Kinobalon programme within City of Women, produced by Kinodvor. Petra Slatinšek selected a gem from documentary director Alice Schmid, who spent 365 days with her camera amongst the children on the mountain farms in the heart of Switzerland. The Children From the Napf is a film portrait of the Swiss “Wild West”.

In addition to the above mentioned we have organised workshops conducted by Marija Mojca Pungerčar aimed at parents, children, grandmothers and their granddaughters. They will create decorative flowers following the methods of ornamental folk tradition. At Škuc Gallery you'll be able to mend old clothes within the Socialdress Service workshop or even arrange their visit to your home. You can also attend talks with artists and participate in a public discussion on Feminism, Education and Art.

You are kindly invited to the festival that will – hopefully – shake prejudices towards the much “hated” subject of old age and show that old age is nothing but one of periods in a life. With respect and solidarity it can be as beautiful and productive as youth!

Mara Vujić, Artistic Director of the 18th Internationational Festival of Contemporary Arts – City of Women